Letter to the editor from C. Z.:
Mr. Wiker’s article in “To the Source” is
merely one more hackneyed, knee-jerk reaction of the defenders of religion to attempt to discredit scientific research.
What world does a man like Mr. Wiker want to live in? Is he proposing that we stop all scientific inquiry into the beginnings of life and instead, become a society of true believers who regard questioning and study as taboo? Every time I read one of these articles, I see fear. Theists fear that scientists will actually prove that there was no creator. They fear that their belief system will crumble as science reveals exactly how everything began, going back to the big bang, and it all truly occurred by chance. I don’t believe that will ever happen, but if it did, well, so what?
What would be lost but one more failed hypothesis in service to the truth. True believers say that what they hold in their hearts by faith, actually is the truth. Then, what is there to fear? Eventually, given enough milennia of study, science will eventually prove you are right. We’re all on the same planet, all of the same origin. Do we open our minds to explore our roots, or do we close them and clutch at dogma? – C. Z.
Dr. Wiker responds to C. Z.:
First, where do we agree? That science must abandon dead ends and failed hypotheses, and further, that one must be a scientist in order to judge properly whether a hypotheses has failed. That is why I, as a theologian, do not read other theologians to find out about the current state of biology, any more than I read other theologians about the current state of archaeology or geology. I read biologists, historians of science, philosophers of science, paleontologists, and so on to find out about the current state of evolutionary theory, and if you yourself would dig beyond the surface, you would find something quite interesting. More and more biologists are critical of the simplistic notions concerning DNA as defined by the neo-Darwinists. That is just a statement of fact, and whether I am a theologian, a plumber, a senator, or a fishmonger, doesn’t alter that fact.
But do we disagree? I’m all for scientific research, and computer models can be of some help in this, to say the least. The difficulty lies in confusing what is actually being tested, for the results and their interpretation are only as good as the presuppositions. The computer can be programmed to do anything, to mimic microevolution via abstract symbols according to a pre-arranged program, or to illustrate the assumption that microevolutionary changes can yield macroevolutionary results, creating entirely new species. Darwinism itself, from biological evidence, can demonstrate microevolution (and so the computer has a “match” so to speak). But to demonstrate that small changes can yield enormous changes over time—well, that is just what Darwinism has had trouble doing all along, so there is no unambiguous, uncontested biological evidence for macroevolution. Thus, while the computer can be programmed to produce it, what does the production prove? It could be programmed to produce anything. Like computer-based global warming predictions or computer-based weather pattern predictions, the greater the time-span covered, the less sure any scientist can be that they match the actual particulars. Let them run a program that maps the development of the avian wing, lung, bone structure, and metabolism—all of which are necessary for flight—and then find corresponding hard evidence that this actually occurred in the precise way that the computer model would predict, then I shall be convinced.
Letter to the editor from D. B.:
This is a scientific email account. Our business is Geology, Oceanography, and Biology. Therefore you are wasting electrons by sending me this creationist garbage. Evolution IS a theory..Genesis is a HYPOTHESIS…look up the definitions, idiot!! – D. B.
Dr. Wiker responds to D. B.:
To say that “Evolution is a theory” is quite accurate, as my dictionary makes clear. A theory is defined as a “speculative idea,” “a formulation of apparent relationships or underlying principles of certain observed phenomena which has been verified to some degree,” or popularly, “a mere conjecture.” A “hypothesis” is “an unproved theory…tentatively accepted to explain certain facts.”
Properly speaking, then, the hypothesis comes first as a kind of nascent theory waiting to be tested, whereas a theory has in some respects been tested but not entirely vindicated. Since, as anyone who has studied the history of science with mildest of attention knows, theories prove quite useful, but they also come and go, the dictionary properly doesn’t call a theory an established fact. That is why “theory” has the taint of “mere conjecture.”
It is proper—and indeed quite needful—to send to a scientific email scientific news from the scientific community that there are problems with classic neo-Darwinian theory. To miss out on that news seems quite unscientific.
And Genesis? Calling Genesis a hypothesis would seem to me as strange as calling Psalm 23 a hypothesis. It cannot be tested, I would argue, because in a very important way, it stands at the origin of all possible scientific testing, and hence any hypothesis or theory.
The central points of Genesis seem to me, to be (1) that the universe has been created in an orderly, intelligible way, and (2) that human beings have the divine-like capacity to know it. If the universe had truly been created by chance, then it would not be so profoundly ordered and knowable, and its extraordinary intelligibility has caused many a scientist to act like a Psalmist, praising the glories of its Creator. If human beings did not have the strange God-like capacity to know the order of creation, then human beings couldn’t be scientists.
Letter to the editor from T. S.:
Regarding the article “Testing Darwin”– If you hoped to show that a “naturalistic” explanation of evolutionary phenomena is inadequate, you have done so admirably. Of course, you could also do the same with any other set of phenomena, including historical and sociological. Perhaps there is “intelligent design” behind the success of one warring nation against another, or the favored status of one social group over another? But what exactly is your author critiquing? The “naturalistic fallacy” no doubt, but what else? Evolutionary theory? Fair enough, but what of it? Is the fact of the mechanism of evolution as a way of producing species variants, and over the long (millions of years) term, producing “new” species, under dispute? Now, we can have wonderful discussions over the meaning of evolution, and whether as a mechanism it can account for all observable biological phenomena. We can even discuss whether it is true that “Darwin [makes] it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” But let’s not confuse the issue by critiquing evolution’s ability to provide ultimate meaning and give ultimate answers. – T. S.
Dr. Wiker responds to T. S.:
If I understand T. S.’s letter—and I’m not certain that I do—he seems to be saying three things: (1) a purely naturalistic (i.e., materialistic) account of anything can be shown to be inadequate, so why single out evolutionary theory; (2) that the mechanism of evolution is indeed entirely adequate to account for the production of new species, and so it is not “under dispute”; and (3) that evolution never claimed to be anything more than a very tightly circumscribed theory of biological change, and so let’s not critique it as if it were a theory of everything.
Concerning (1), I suspect T. S. is being a tad sarcastic, and means something like this: quibblers can poke and prod and pick at anything, and merely by a kind of sophistic intellectual harassment, can cast doubt on anything. That may be true, but that doesn’t touch the basic question, Is a purely materialist, reductionist account of evolution adequate. Or to be more to the point of my article, What do genes really do? That is an empirical question, and the simple truth is that the earlier reductionist view of the gene as all-powerful creative genie has come under attack from within the scientific community.
Which leads us to (2). The latest developments in biology are indeed turning against the simplistic notion, held dear by Darwinists and neo-Darwinists alike, that natural selection as a mechanism is adequate to explain the production of new species. The structuralist school in biology was formed because biologists tired of the intellectual vapidity of neo-Darwinist claims. And it isn’t only biologists who question Darwinism. Listen to the following words of Nobel Prize-winning physicist and anti-reductionism crusader, Robert B. Laughlin:
Much of present-day biological knowledge is ideological. A key symptom of ideological thinking is the explanation that has no implications and cannot be tested. I call such logical dead ends antitheories because they have exactly the opposite effect of real theories: they stop thinking rather than stimulate it. Evolution by natural selection, for instance, which Charles Darwin originally conceived as a great theory, has lately come to function more as an antitheory, called upon to cover up embarrassing experimental shortcomings and legitimize findings that are at best questionable and at worst wrong. Your protein defies the laws of mass action? Evolution did it! Your complicated mess of chemical reactions turns into a chicken? Evolution! The human brain works on logical principles no computer can emulate? Evolution is the cause!
– Robert B. Laughlin, A Different Universe pp. 168-169.
In regard to (3), as I argue in Moral Darwinism, evolutionary theory is part of a larger materialist account of cosmology; that is, it a part of a materialist theory that does indeed claim to be a theory of everything. That’s why Dawkins rightly affirms that, if Darwin’s cosmology was right, then theology is senseless babble.
Letter to the editor from J. P.:
(In response to Dinesh D’Souza’s “Losing by Winning,” we received a rather astute observation from one of our readers, well worth quoting in full.)
“Good article. It seems to me that in all these cases of ‘radical secularism’, particularly recently, we are in a situation where the system of belief that is atheism is actually being given preference over theism in all its forms. I think the case can be made that atheism is in some sense a religion in its own right, which also ought to be ‘separated’ from the state.” – J.P.
Dr. Wiker responds to J. P.:
Atheism, a religion? A religion that ought to be separated from the state? Such a suggestion makes sense in light of the recent attempts to ban the Ten Commandments from public display on the grounds that such public “endorsement” violates the hallowed judicial principle of the separation of church and state. As the reader suggests, it seems as if atheism has become—irony of ironies—a kind of state-endorsed religion bent on cleansing the public square of any and all references to God.
Unfortunately, our societal response to this situation has been far less astute and courageous than our reader’s. One reason for our timidity is the mistaken notion that there is some kind of cosmic equivalent of the Ten Commandments, a single great command that trumps all others: Thou Shalt Have No Gods Before Us.
This great command, so we are assured, cannot be questioned. It is the sacred doctrine upon which the separation of church and state is built. It doesn’t need to be explained. It doesn’t require any justification. It brooks no inquiry. It must simply be accepted as a brute judicial fact. The sacred must be silenced; the state must be secular.
Happily, there are some who are cheeky enough to ask, “Why so?” Where is it written the separation of church and state means that the state must cleanse the entire public square of even the tiniest crumbs of theism?
Did our founders understand the doctrine of the separation of church and state in the same way that (for example) the ACLU and all too many judges now espouse it? It is a fairly simple historical fact to verify that the founders meant nothing of the sort. They simply meant that the United States must not officially mandate one Christian denomination over any other (as had been done by the Anglican Church in England).
Is it some cosmic principle written into nature, far older than our country’s founding? Afraid not. As Christian Smith points out in his book The Secular Revolution, the current belief ruling our judiciary with such an iron secularist hand has a rather short pedigree. That is, it is the result of a determined revolution on the part of a small set of very determined secular revolutionaries, and that secular revolution occurred about a century afterthe American revolution.
Thus, the belief that the separation of church and state demands the stripping of all references to religion from public life is a very particular, highly questionable interpretation proclaimed as gospel by secularist apostles. It is not (like the Ten Commandments) written in stone. It was written quite recently on mere paper—newspaper, journals, and revolutionary manifestos—by those who wanted to write religion out of public life.
These secularist revolutionaries had all the zeal of Christianity’s first apostles, and in reading their cries for freedom from religion, one cannot help but sense that they are positively religious in their insistence on secularization. One wonders, then, should we be ruled by the religion of irreligion?